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What Are the Habits of Managers Who Create and
Sustain an Environment That Supports Diversity?
By Lenora Billings-Harris, CSP
Think of a leader/manager in your life who really
motivated you to be the best you could be. What attributes or characteristics
describe him or her? What habits did he or she have that worked for you? Over
the past two years, I have asked hundreds of leaders that question. Here is a
sampling of the most frequent answers.
She or he:
* Was fair and respectful toward others.
* Had high personal standards.
* Believed in my abilities and potential.
* Helped me believe in myself.
* Encouraged and stretched me.
* Led by example.
* Mentored and coached.
* Asked for and appreciated different points of
* Criticized objectively.
* Had integrity; was honorable.
* Helped me solve my own problems.
* Had a vision.
* Developed a trusting environment.
The specific word, diversity, was rarely used
when people described their best, favorite, or most effective manager. However,
fairness, respect, objectiveness, and listening recurred frequently.
These attributes describe an effective manager
and leader. The key within a diverse environment is to be able to practice these
behaviors with all contributors, rather than only employees with whom you are
most comfortable. Developing the diversity dimension of leadership requires a
commitment to demonstrate the following behaviors on a regular basis:
- Learn the professional aspirations of all team
members and support their efforts to achieve them. Many organizations have some
type of career development or succession planning process. In order to make
these programs more effective within a diverse environment, be sure that you are
talking to all of your staff about their career aspirations. Even if your
organization does not have many opportunities for individuals looking for upward
mobility, your interest in their career and your assistance in their development
will be greatly appreciated and usually motivates people to do their best work.
If there are no opportunities within the organization and the employee
ultimately leaves the company, your company then has a positive ambassador in
the overall community.
- Create opportunities for highly talented
employees to be exposed to leaders who may not otherwise interact with them.
Create opportunities where they present a report, attend a meeting in your
place, or conduct various other activities whereby they can interact with
leaders in the organization who, if impressed, can impact their career in a
- Create cross-functional teams. As organizations
have downsized, right-sized, and re-engineered their businesses, many management
positions have been eliminated, thus requiring groups to work together as teams
in order to complete the necessary tasks. When you create cross-functional
teams, ideas flourish. People are exposed to each other's ideas and discover
that different departments have different viewpoints. That exposure is
beneficial to the overall innovation potential of the organization. When
creating these teams, remember that putting people together does not
automatically make them a team. Attention does need to be given to developing
that group of people into an effective, trusting team.
- Volunteer for community projects that teach
tolerance, both directly and indirectly. By doing this, you set the example that
you are continually enhancing your understanding and appreciation of people
different than you. That behavior can encourage others within the organization
to do the same. For example, you may choose to become a mentor within the Big
Brothers/Big Sisters organization. This can enable you to better understand
young people. The experience can teach tolerance and patience, and it can
certainly will help you appreciate that which is important to people whose
backgrounds may be different than yours. These learnings have many applications
in the workplace.
- Delegate fairly. Sometimes we have a tendency
to delegate to the same people all the time because they do good work and we
know things will be done well. However, if we are going to truly develop all
team members, regardless of their packaging, we need to identify projects,
tasks, and responsibilities that could further develop their skills. Once the
task is delegated, be sure to coach and counsel, and be clear regarding your
expectations and the results.
- Communicate and support intolerance of
inappropriate and disrespectful behavior. This must be an ongoing behavior on
your part, one where you are constantly looking for opportunities to teach
tolerance and respect within the workplace.
- Evaluate performance objectively. Employees
really want to do a good job. The problem is often they don't know what a good
job is, because the clues from management and leadership are unclear. Often the
clues are different based on superficial or stereotypical judgments regarding
age, gender or ethnicity. As soon as a person joins an organization, she or he
should be given a clear job description, and the specific goals and objectives
for that individual should be developed. The criteria for measurement should be
clarified. Throughout the evaluation period, feedback should be given so that
when the evaluation review is actually conducted, neither the manager nor the
employee is surprised by the results. It is not easy being totally objective all
the time. However, if the skills and expectations for the job are clear, the
measurement criteria is clear, and the feedback is continuous, then it becomes
easier for you to be fair with each employee.
- Consider individual needs when enforcing
company policies and guidelines. The idea is to be fair. However,
"fair" does not necessarily mean "the same." There are times
when you must decide how to implement policies without showing favoritism while
recognizing differences. An example might be with work schedules. Although
within a department, and within the same job category, everyone is probably
expected to arrive at the same time and leave at the same time, it would be
appropriate, when necessary, to allow flex-time as long as it is clear that the
total amount of time required for work is covered. Job sharing is also helpful
here. If parents have child-related issues, effective managers consider those
issues and determine whether or not exceptions are necessary while balancing the
effect of making those exceptions and their impact on the overall department.
Not an easy thing to do. Rather than try to develop the best idea alone, Solicit
input from the employees involved and from other managers to determine what the
most appropriate action is.
You may have noticed that nowhere in this chapter
have I mentioned doing things based on ethnicity, gender, disability, age, and
the like. It is critical that effective leaders and managers realize that
everyone in the organization contributes to its diversity. The more you are able
to connect with individuals, the more you will be able to create an environment
that causes them to produce at their highest level, regardless of their
Actions that Make a Difference
1. Make time to talk privately with each of your
employees on a regular basis. For example, if you have 10 employees, provide
each with 30 minutes every two weeks where they have the opportunity to share
with you whatever they wish. They can ask any questions, give you ideas, and you
have the opportunity to get to know them personally and coach and counsel them
2. Ask your staff, individually, how they would
prefer to be managed and how they would prefer to be rewarded. Often we assume
money is what everyone wants. This is not necessarily true. Using learning
assessments such as the Personal Profile or other tools to better understand
communication styles and ingredients for the most motivating environments for
different styles can be very helpful for both you and the employee. When you ask
an employee how he or she wishes to be rewarded, you may discover personal
interests, and professional aspirations that you can be supportive of. For
example, perhaps one employee might be most motivated by having the company pay
part of his or her child's tuition. A child-free person may be most appreciative
if the company provided additional vacation time so that she or he could visit a
3. Take your staff to lunch every now and then,
just to chat. The more actions you take to demonstrate sincere interest in the
individual, the more likely your staff will want to "go the extra
mile." The challenge is to be able to make the time. However, once you do,
you will more likely see the real person, instead of just their
"packaging." Their differences will then be an asset instead of a
(c)1998. Excel Development Systems, Inc. All
Rights Reserved. For information about presentations and products offered by
Lenora Billings-Harris, CSP , Call 1-888-288-8885 or visit www.lenoraspeaks.
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